By Mary Kate Lau and Alex Carpenter, Sun Devil Communications
Sun Devil Alum Deirdre Cienki was a former Arizona State women’s tennis player and English literature major who ventured off into broadcast and now works for ESPN Radio. While playing tennis at ASU Cienki interned for Fox Sport Arizona production department, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds media relations department . Later Cienki became involved in the MLB Advanced Media where she was part of the All-Star Game Activities, booked guests for the All-Star Game Fan Fest and helped with the production on the MLB.com studio set at the All-Star game. Sun Devil Athletics caught up with Deirdre Cienki and asked about her experience as an ASU athlete, how it helped her get where she is today, and what working at ESPN Radio is like.
Sun Devil Athletics: What made you pursue sports broadcasting?
Deirdre Cienki: It probably started when I was in high school. I went to a tennis boarding school in Florida and I was among some of the best athletes in the world. I kind of got a knack for picking their brains in terms of how I can improve as a tennis player. Then one day I asked a baseball player, 'Hey, why are you [pitching] this way? What's different about this approach?' You know just stuff that would help me improve as an athlete, and then I realized 'Hey, just in my normal every day-to-day life, I'm asking questions to high-performance athletes.' and maybe this is something I would be interested in doing once my college career is over. Then at Arizona State it started escalating a little more when I started doing my internships and recognizing 'Hey, I could make a career out of this.’
SDA: What’s your daily routine like?
DC: Right now I split my time between our [ESPN] national radio talk shows and our remote play-by-play broadcasts. The main thing is developing content, like what we talk about on the air, guest booking, developing and executing show features, working with accounts and getting show feedback, that kind of thing.
SDA: When you do the guest bookings, do you get star struck sometimes?
DC: I wouldn't say I get star struck. A lot of times we don't meet the people we guest book. I'd say 75 percent of the time we just talk to them on the phone or we send a camera to them. We do have what we call a ‘Car Wash’ at ESPN, where high-profile athletes come in and spend the day at ESPN and they're booked from morning until afternoon going on all of our shows from Sports Center to First Take to Mike and Mike to Scott Van Pelt to The Herd and they do everything,.It’s cool to see them but where I trained in high school was probably the top of the top for high profile athletes so having these guys around was just kind of normal for me.
SDA: Any funny stories about some of the ESPN personalities?
DC: Oh yeah a lot of stories, I don't even know what to share. I think probably the biggest thing I'd say is everyone is so much fun and so nice. You see these personalities on TV and on radio and they are sports fans just like us. A lot of people look at them as just heads on a screen but they are just as big of sports fans as the people that watch them. They make work fun. They are so awesome to be around, but they work hard. It takes a lot of work to put on these shows, and people get mad at things they say or if they're wrong about a prediction but they are just like you and I.
SDA: As a female working in sports broadcast you were able to overcome some adversity, what are some obstacles you’ve faced and how do you deal with that?
DC: I think we all play a big part in determining how we're perceived and for me, I got in touch with a lot of great female broadcasters and producers out here at ESPN that set such a good example for me. I think we have to be conscious of the decisions that we make on a day-to-day basis in order to make sure [women] are perceived correctly. At the end of the day, we can't control what people say about us, or how they perceive us or make misjudgments because you're an attractive female or just a female in general in a locker room. But at the end of the day, if you focus on what you're doing and make good decisions, you'll be fine.
SDA: You don’t only work in sports. You also did some business blogging as well for Huffington Post. How did that start?
DC: Arianna Huffington is good friends with the guy I originally sent a letter to at ESPN, which is how I got my job. She was on [the ESPN] campus visiting one day and I met her, had a brief conversation with her and that's how I got into that field. My father is in business and my mom is a lawyer and I always said those are two places I'm not interested in going into and it wasn't something I was interested in doing. But now that I'm at ESPN, in terms of what my goals are and what I want to do, I want to lead an organization and I'm really interested in the business side of sports and what goes into an organization from things like a profit standpoint and figuring out how to get the best out of employees. That's definitely a direction I want to go into when it comes to sports.
SDA: How do you think ASU prepared you for your career academically?
DC: It's funny, I’ve had people ask me, 'if you could do it again would you still go to ASU?' In a heartbeat. Arizona State was huge in my preparation for where I am right now, from the standpoint of the Athletic Department to academics to teamwork to time management and prioritization. The Athletic Department definitely helped set me up to be prepared for the real world once I left ASU.
SDA: How did being a student-athlete prepare you for a career?
DC: I think that's kind of along the same line from the English department helping me lock down internships and making sure that I could do my internships and still be on the team and still have a big part in the Athletic Department. My academic adviser, Stephanie [Viola] was awesome in making sure I could do online classes in order to be able to do my internship while having practice in the morning or the afternoon and making sure my schedule was flexible. [ASU head coach] Sheila McInerney recognized my ambitions and goals. She always had a quote she would say, 'People always say we're preparing you for the real world, well you're in the real world right now.' She would say 'You're responsible for your schedule, making sure you're at practice on time. If you want to do other things… you can do it but you have to make it work. It's on you. We'll provide you with the services to make it possible but you have to do it. If that means waking up at 5 in the morning to get a workout in and then going to an internship or go student teach and then go to practice in the afternoon.’ She made it so that we could be successful, but we had to prioritize our schedule and make sure we were on top of everything.
SDA: What was your favorite experience as a Sun Devil?
DC: Oh man anytime we beat the Wildcats! Those are definitely the best memories.